Why the CIA is having such a hard time keeping its best
Among the CIA's four directorates--the other three are the directorates of intelligence, science and technology, and support--the clandestine service has always seen itself as first among equals. President Bush's new CIA director, Porter Goss, has a different view. Agency spokesperson Jennifer Millerwise Dyck says: "The director's view is that the agency is at its best when all four directorates are working collectively for the same objectives." A new reorganization plan, announced at an offsite seminar in late January, proposes melding the four directorates into a new functional design. Also, intelligence sources criticize what they say is a diversion of resources intended for the "core collectors" of the clandestine service--the case officers assigned to recruit spies and the reports officers who are charged with writing up the intelligence they collect.
More important than the number of departing spies is the fact that so many have been its most seasoned veterans, inhabitants of "baron" posts, like those of the regional division chiefs and directors of the counterterrorism and counterproliferation centers. Within the past year, according to current and former case officers and supervisors, virtually the entire top level of the D.O. has turned over. One intelligence official estimates that at least 20 of the most coveted senior spots have been vacated in the 17 months since Goss arrived. The post of European division chief has turned over twice, as has the No.2 official of the directorate, the associate deputy director for operations. Some have moved to new positions, but many have departed or retired. Agency spokesperson Dyck says: "As more agencies get into the intelligence business, they're coming to the CIA for senior leaders to help set up their shops."
For the nation's premier intelligence agency, this amounts to the loss of hundreds of years of experience in some of the most difficult and dangerous parts of the world--precisely the places Washington needs experienced eyes and ears as it continues to prosecute the war on terrorism. Because virtually all of these individuals worked in clandestine capacities, U.S. News will not reveal their names or publish information that could lead to exposure of their identities.
The extent of the exodus from the operations directorate has not previously been reported. Several senior D.O. officials have made their departures public, however, citing disagreements with Goss, the former chairman of the House intelligence committee. The respected top two officials in the D.O., Stephen Kappes and Michael Sulick, were pushed out shortly after Goss arrived at the CIA's collegelike campus just outside Washington. In September, Sulick's replacement, Robert Richer, also announced his resignation--after less than nine months on the job. It took more than three months to find someone willing to fill Richer's post, a plum job considered a steppingstone to the top spot in the D.O. Three others turned down the job.
Other senior case officers are reportedly planning to leave as soon as they turn 50. Should that happen, coming on the heels of those who have already left, the D.O. will be fielding perhaps the most inexperienced team of intelligence officers in its history. Burton Gerber, who retired from the D.O. in 1995 after 39 years, including five stints as station and division chief, says, "The skills can only be acquired on the job; there is no other training. "Compared with someone like Gerber, a recently retired case officer estimates that today as many as 1 in 5 station chiefs has had just two or fewer overseas postings before being promoted. "These people are competent," this retired officer says. "But they don't have the level of experience--they have been pushed into these jobs before their time, in a sense."